Rick Byrd has seen numerous good players and good athletes come through his programs during a 38-year career that has resulted in an 804-401 record and almost certain entry into basketball’s various halls of fame. While some could make an argument that Byrd -- who has spent the last 33 seasons at Belmont -- has coached better players than Dylan Windler, it’s doubtful he’s ever had a better athlete.
Byrd, who with Windler’s help just guided Belmont to the school’s first NCAA Tournament at-large bid and first victory in the tournament, has always marveled at Windler’s athleticism. Like a multi-instrumentalist who can play anything he picks up, Windler excels at sports, whether they’re played with a racket, club, bat or just a ball.
“He’s a great athlete, but also, he just understands how to win,” Byrd says. “He’s our team’s best ping pong player. In softball, he covers the entire outfield and makes plays, and hits it a mile. He was a serious junior golfer and didn’t play AAU basketball until his senior year of high school. He’s also good at soccer and tennis. You could invent a game of some sort -- combining whatever two sports you wanted to -- explain the rules, and Dylan would be the best player at it.”
That athletic ability, plus a 6-foot-8 frame and a 6-11 wingspan, just might propel Windler into the NBA Draft. He’s consistently showed up in the mock drafts, and his stock rose last week after he blasted Maryland of the rugged Big Ten with 35 points, 21 of them coming from 3-pointers, and 11 rebounds in a first-round NCAA loss.
The Bruins, dispatched to the tournament’s First Four in Dayton, had earned that matchup with the Terps by beating Temple. Windler, obviously drawing extra defensive attention, scored just five points in that game, but he still got his typical allotment of boards (14; he averaged 10.8 this season), along with two assists and three steals. The Owls’ deep concern of Windler going off on them allowed Belmont’s Kevin McClain that honor -- he scored 29 points in the upset victory.
It was a testament to Windler that whenever Belmont played a power conference team -- they lost to Purdue and won at UCLA this season -- Windler always drew double coverage, and though his points were limited, he understood there were other things he could do to help his team. He scored seven points against the Boilermakers, who have advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, but contributed 11 boards, three assists and two steals. At UCLA Windler scored just 12 points, nine below his season average, but racked up 15 boards.
“To his credit, Dylan didn’t try to make it happen when it wasn’t there,” Byrd says. “It gave teammates more opportunities, because nobody’s helping off of him.”
Byrd admits he doesn’t spend nearly as much time watching the NBA as some of his college counterparts. Other than Ian Clark, he hasn’t coached a player who’s advanced to that level. So Byrd defers judgement whether Windler can play in the NBA.
“I don’t know enough about that world,” Byrd says. “I watch the NBA some. But I’ll tell you this -- he’s worked out a lot with Ian Clark [who’s played for Utah, Denver, Golden State and New Orleans in an eight-year NBA career], and Ian definitely thinks Dylan can play in the NBA. Ian’s got a reference point I don’t have.”
Windler has an interesting story. He was so good at so many sports that his best one was overlooked by college coaches. That was with good reason. Until the summer before his senior season at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis, Windler thought golf would be his game. During the summers -- valuable time for high school basketball players to improve and showcase their skills on the AAU circuit -- Windler played in junior golf tournaments.
In the summer of 2014, Windler, who was trying to decide whether to focus on golf or basketball, got an offer to join the Indiana Elite AAU team, which also included Purdue’s Ryan Cline and Virginia’s Kyle Guy, both of whom are playing for NCAA Tournament Elite Eight teams. Indiana Elite was so loaded Windler was no better than the seventh scoring option. But during one tournament in his hometown, a couple of the team’s stars were off participating in an adidas camp, and Windler was elevated to the starting lineup.
Suffice it to say he was able to showcase his skills. He left that tournament with 15 Division I scholarship offers. Tennessee Tech was the first to extend an invitation.
“Once I got a college offer set in stone, I decided basketball was the way to go,” Windler says. “So I went all in on basketball. I trained all the time and was always in the gym getting shots up. And I ended up having a good senior season in high school.”
By that time, Byrd, who likes to recruit basketball-mad states, which he mines for winners, shooters and players who understand how to play the game, had already locked up Windler, who committed in July 2014. Though he could have waited on an offer from Indiana or Purdue in the spring of 2015, he went with the sure thing.
Windler has never doubted his decision. In his time at Belmont, the Bruins were 94-34 despite having to play demanding non-conference schedules, finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference three times and second once, played in two NITs and then ended his career with a memorable NCAA Tournament trip.
“I’ve learned so much about the game in general from coach Byrd,” Windler says. “Offensively, he’s boosted my game and given me the confidence to play the way I have. I have freedom, the green light to shoot. I’ve learned about games and situations, and to value possessions.”
Windler has yet to sign with an agent, but he’s certain to be working out with another former Belmont star, Drew Hanlen, who has become an in-demand shot doctor and workout guru for aspiring NBA players. Windler has a list of skills he wants to polish before, he hopes, he’s extended a visit to the NBA’s Chicago Draft Combine.
“I want to be more of a playmaker,” hey says. “I want to be able to finish over length. Adding to my vertical leap can always help. I’ll be working on gaining more weight and muscle. There’s always room for growth in that regard.”
In a certain system, on a certain team, Windler could become a valuable piece, with his 3-point shooting range, ability to get to the rim, aggressive rebounding and defensive ability.
Windler, who’s not the least bit cocky, sees a future in the league.
“I think I can really be a good 3 and D guy,” Windler says. “A guy that can knock down shots and defend multiple positions.”
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